Cookie Puss on the 6

Athena and Bobo, 6 train-Lexington Avenue Local, between 23rd Street and 14th Street, NYC, 1/1//17

Athena and Bobo, IRT 6-Lexington Avenue Local, between 23rd Street and 14th Street, NYC, 1/1//17

A young couple with large duffle-style backpacks and two bundled dogs entered the train at 23rd Street. It said “service dog” on small patches on Athena and Bobo’s coats and Pabst Blue Ribbon on the can in the woman’s non-leash hand. (Chris said that he didn’t really mind if someone drank a beer on the train, and joked, “But why such a clichéd brand?”)

During an interminable delay at Astor Place, Athena, with her gorgeous black-and-white- cookie face, found me, sniffed all my pockets, correctly detecting biscuit dust. And she did her job, soothing the frustration of being stuck in the station.

Need soothing (and a way to take action and shout truth to illegitimate power) as the sexist, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, incompetent president-elect ascends to the presidency (outrageously taking the oath using the Lincoln Bible)?  Lace up your marching boots and take to the streets on Saturday, January 21 for the Women’s March on Washington or join one of the 600–and counting–sister marches), being held in cities and towns throughout our country (including NYC), and the world.


(Thank you, Congressman Jerry Nadler, for refusing to participate in the inauguration.)

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The Greatest Story Ever, Retold

Eugène Green, NYC, 9/29/14

Eugène Green, NYC, 9/29/14

Divided into five parts, based on passages in the Bible, writer-director Eugène Green’s new film, “Son of Joseph” (2016), like his earlier work, uniquely combines the transcendent and the comic. Green, an American ex-pat, longtime resident of France says, “This association with the Bible is important to me, as is everything that constitutes my culture, and thus my life experience.”

Curly haired and surly, Vincent (talented newcomer Vincent Ezenfis), a Parisian teenager being raised by his lovely (but dowdily dressed) and devoted single mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), a nurse, deeply feels his lack of a father. He discovers a letter Marie wrote to Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric), a famous publisher, a man she barely knew, when Vincent was born, who rejected her and their child. With his father identified, Vincent’s adventures begin, and while the action is engrossing, it’s Green mise-en-scène that makes the story so affecting.

Tracking Oscar to a tony publishing party, Vincent overhears pretentious art babble, and pretends to be at home with the literati. He later slides into the publisher’s office, located in an upscale hotel. Hiding under a chaise, concealed behind its floor-length fringes, he gets and ear- (and somewhat obstructed) eyeful. On another day, he ambushes Oscar and ties him to a chair, and escapes. Oscar, enraged, is determined to find his assailant and have him punished.

Vincent meets Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione, wonderful, as he was in Green’s “La Sapineza”), unshaven and agitated, in the restaurant in hotel’s lobby, without knowing that he’s Oscar’s brother (and therefore, his uncle), who’s waiting to meet his wealthy sibling, hoping to borrow money to buy the farm where they grew up.

A bond forms between Joseph and Vincent, despite their age difference, as they spend time together walking in the Luxembourg Gardens, visiting the Louvre and discovering a classical singer in a church.

With his anger toward Marie subsiding as his grave need for a father (figure) is somewhat fulfilled, Vincent invites Joseph to dinner at home, secretly playing matchmaker. Marie and Joseph soon meet again, for a movie date (Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert”) and red wine in a cafe.

In the film’s final section (“The Flight to Egypt”), Marie, Joseph and Vincent leave Paris to take a trip to the seaside in Normandy, where Joseph was raised. Shortly after arriving, the three are suddenly the subject of a manhunt,  a case of mistaken/unknown identity, and as they flee the police, becoming a family, of course there’s a donkey for Marie to ride on (her heels, unfit for sand, “are not for a fugitive”).

“Son of Joseph” will open on Friday, January 13 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

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Nat Hentoff 1925-2017

Nat Hentoff, Village Voice offices, Cooper Square, NYC, 11/9/90

Nat Hentoff, Village Voice offices, Cooper Square, NYC, 11/9/90

Nat Hentoff who had a long, twinned career writing passionately (and influentially) about jazz and civil liberties died Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.

In David L. Lewis’s documentary portrait of Nat, “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step” (2013), Nat said, “The Constitution and jazz are my main reasons for being,” calling “James Madison and company”…“those improvisers” and stating that “jazz, a life force, comes from democracy…freedom is the common denominator in the music and the First Amendment.”

Nat was my much-admired colleague at The Village Voice (where he wrote for 50 years), despite that I wholly agreed with former Voice editor Karen Durbin’s pro-choice position, which often put her often at ferocious odds with him over abortion rights.

The first time I photographed Nat, my plan had been to shoot him in his Voice office. But we shot just outside it–the office, famously chockablock, wouldn’t accommodate my tripod and light stands.

Nat Hentoff, NYC

Nat Hentoff, NYC, 2/7/07

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Into the Woods, No Way Out

Robin Pront and Kevin Janssens, NYC, 12/6/16

Robin Pront and Kevin Janssens, NYC, 12/6/16

Belgian director Robin Pront’s assured first feature, “The Ardennes,” is thrillingly nasty, dark (both its tone and gorgeous imagery), and darkly funny, a story of a serious, character-defining lack of impulse control, and the limits of brotherly love.

Kenny (Kevin Janssens), malevolently handsome, who had been nabbed and jailed for a crime he and his brother, Dave (Jeroen Perceval), had ineptly committed, is being released. But his four years of prison time, rooming with a sensitive bonsai tree aficionado, Stef (Jan Bijvoet), with surgical skills, haven’t meant rehabilitation and he’s eager to get back to business and Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), his girlfriend.

But things on the outside have changed. Dave, three years sober, now glances at his moral compass. Sylvie, who struggled to get clean, works for the brothers’ childhood friend, Khalid, at his nightclub. They’re making a life together (Sylvie to Dave: “I just want to be dull”), and making a family. Unsure how to tell Kenny, who’s still beyond bad boy, the pair is desperate to minimize the fallout from his inevitable explosion.

After a disastrous attempt at working with Dave at his job at a carwash, and a fight with Khalid at his club for supposedly flirting with Sylvie, Kenny borrows Dave’s car. He returns, agitated, saying he has Khalid’s body wrapped in tarp, adding, “He had his hand on her shoulder,” which lead to a confrontation. “Not my fault he fell down.”

And they’re off from Antwerp to the Ardennes forest where, Kenny says, “Stef will make (Khalid) disappear.” The brothers locate Stef and as the cellmates are enjoying their reunion, Gerard, the local gamekeeper, arrives to warn of 16 aggressive ostriches, escapees from the local meat packing plant.

But the violence has not been left behind and as the bodies pile up, Dave and Kenny ferociously fight each other (and the huge, angry ostriches) in the torrential nighttime rain and mud. As the cops arrive and intervene, Pront’s last spectacular shot, god’s eye view, surveys the waste.

“The Ardennes” will open on Friday, January 6 at the Village East Cinema and in Los Angeles on Friday, January 13. A release to selected cities will follow.

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Super Moon

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins

Released eight years before his transcendent “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’s wonderful debut feature, “Medicine for Melancholy” (2008), sepia’ed and gorgeous, accompanies two young, very attractive hipsters, Micah (Wyatt Cenac, not yet Daily Show famous), and Jo (Tracey Heggins), as their one-night stand grows into a 24-hour encounter with each other and San Francisco. Specific to the two, the film also opens out from the personal to deal with issues of race, class, and the accelerating gentrification of the Bay Area.

Both of Jenkins’s features and two of his shorts will be shown by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series, “Illuminating Moonlight,” also features a selection of major works of queer, black and international art cinema, chosen by Jenkins, which in various ways informed “Moonlight.”

Jenkins’s spectacular influences include: “Beau travail” (1999), Claire Denis’s retelling of “Billy Budd,” which ends with Denis Levant perfoming one of the most remarkable dance sequences ever filmed; Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together” (1997), sensually shot by the great Christopher Doyle, with Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as two lovers from Hong Kong drifting through Buenos Aires and away from each other; “Killer of Sheep” (1978), a masterpiece from Charles Burnett, chronicling black life in Watts (Los Angeles) in the 1970s; “Silent Light” (2007), Carlos Reygadas’s unnerving (and sublimely shot) drama of a marital and spiritual crisis, set in a contemporary Mennonite community in Mexico; and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s beautiful “Three Times” (2005)–three love stories, set in three different eras in Taiwan (but using the same actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen)–which directly inspired the triptych structure of “Moonlight.”

“Illuminating Moonlight” will open on Wednesday, January 4 and run through Monday, January 9. Barry Jenkins will participate in a conversation on Thursday, January 5, following the 6:30 pm screening of “Moonlight,” and will introduce “Medicine for Melancholy” at 9:30 pm.

Claire Denis

Claire Denis

Wong Kar-wai

Wong Kar-wai

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Two weeks ago we went to friends’ annual winter solstice party. One of the hosts was wearing a black t-shirt that proclaimed in big white letters: Fuck 2016. Exactly. And as I’ve written in more than one recent email, although I know that a new year is just a symbolic fresh start, I’ll take it.

Happy, healthy 2017. Peace and justice.


Esopus Creek, Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY

Esopus Creek, Stone Ridge, NY; Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY; Esopus Creek, Stone Ridge, NY

Stone Ridge, NY

Stone Ridge, NY

Stone Ridge, and Kerhonkson, NY

Ryder, Stone Ridge, NY; lavender, Stone Ridge, NY; Kerhonkson, NY

Stone Ridge, NY

Stone Ridge, NY; Esopus Creek, Stone Ridge, NY; Stone Ridge, NY

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In a Difficult Year, Any Chance to Use the Word Best (Without Irony, Sarcasm) is Welcome

Clockwise from top left: Raoul Peck, Krisha Fairchild, Barry Jenkins and Lorenzo Vigas

Clockwise from top left: Raoul Peck, Krisha Fairchild, Barry Jenkins and Lorenzo Vigas

Although I saw more films this year than last, it seems I saw fewer, the misperception probably caused by watching too many (one is too many, but logistics factor into the use of links) on relatively small screens (my always calibrated Eizo or the flatscreen TV).

For me, the best film of 2016 is actually two: Barry Jenkins’s exquisite “Moonlight,” a three-part narrative, focusing on the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of a gay African-American man, suffused with visual and emotional beauty, some of it rough, some sublime; and Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann.” Had I not been totally sucked in long before Winfried turns up in a costume out of Bulgarian folklore, I still would have been shaken/moved, the enormous furry creature reminding me of my father’s last gift before his death, a yellow stuffed Seuss character.

These are the others, (mostly) in alphabetic order: “Elle” (Catherine Breillat Paul Verhoeven), sleek surfaces, erupting violence, Isabelle Huppert, stunning, in one of her two great roles this year; “From Afar” (Lorenzo Vigas), shallowest depth of field, beautiful, and used to great emotional effect;

“I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck), the searing documentary, examines race in the United States, through James Baldwin’s unfinished project about the civil right movement and the assassination of his friends, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers; “Into the Inferno” (Werner Herzog), an opportunity, while visiting volcanoes around the world, for the great filmmaker to muse on pyroclastic flow, hell, the cosmos, North Korea’s origin story and well, everything. Riveting and gorgeously shot (of course);

“Krisha” (Trey Edward Shults), although I thought the family holiday-celebration-from-hell mini genre, had been thoroughly exhausted, I was wrong. Enormous, ferocious performance by the director’s actress aunt, Krisha Fairchild; “Sierranevada” (Cristi Puiu), at 173 minutes and in Romanian (shown at NYFF54), even its New York distribution prospects might be next to nil, a potential big loss because the film is an enthralling (and often funny) view of physical and emotional claustrophobia, as a family gathers in a widow’s Bucharest apartment, to commemorate her husband, their recently departed patriarch. Puiu is the best (in a very competitive field) of the Romanian New Wave filmmakers.

From the Department of Totally Biased: “Equity” (Meera Menon), glass ceiling, treacherous old boys, big money, beautiful clothes and elegant, chilly interiors, a formidable Anna Gunn. (My shoot with the filmmakers and the film’s investors, all women, was one of my top five favorite shoots of the year.)

And, knowing what I like, I might have included, had I seen: “O.J.: Made in America” (Ezra Edelman), I’m hoping to take up residence on Ryder’s Stone Ridge sofa on 1/1, but I’ve yet to check if we get Viceland here; “Cameraperson” (Kirsten Johnson); “The Fits” (Anna Rose Holmer); and “The Handmaiden” (Park Chan-wook).

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